Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Living with a criminal record isn't easy

Criminal history:
Simmons was already dealing drugs by the time he left home at age 12. He graduated to a mid-level cocaine dealer, addicted to heroin. At age 19, a laundry list of serious crimes led to a 13-year penitentiary sentence. Inside, he had another three years added for an aggravated assault. He is now a prisoners' rights advocate in Toronto, and the national prisoners' representative on the Canadian Treatment Action Council, an organization that fights for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS.
On having a record:
"It's a stain. It's like having a birthmark on your face or a tattoo on your face that says, `I'm a criminal.' I probably marked myself in my own way. I've got sleeves of tattoos. And I think that in a way, that's what we do in (prison). It's like we brand ourselves, because we feel like we don't fit into society any more, so this is our own club, and this is how we brand ourselves. That's the way I felt, that people didn't understand. I didn't understand, either. I wasn't really willing to look at in-depth issues that were driving me. . ..
"I was a criminal. Addiction, that was my lot in life. Anger, hatred towards the world, anger and hatred towards myself. It wasn't just one thing. I don't think it's ever just one thing. I think that's just simplistic. . . .
"Really it was the stigma I put on myself. It was almost like I'd be going out for a job but I'd already talked myself out of the job before they could even have a chance to say no, so I would go in there with a (bad) attitude, or basically act like they wouldn't give me the job anyways."
On prison:
"Being in so long, after being out four or five years, I realized I was institutionalized. Waking up at seven in the morning, still, every day. I get hungry at the same times as I was eating inside. Not having a probation, parole or bail – somebody to basically watch over me – it screwed me up. When that was gone, it was like I was totally responsible for all my decisions, even though I was before, but I kind of had them to fall back on. . . .
"It can destroy you. It can make you stronger. Or you can accept your lot and life in prison just becomes your life, really. Living out in society just becomes too hard, and you just like the breaks of going out there, but, really, you won't say it, but living in jail is more easy."
Criminal history:
Convicted at 19 of assaulting two women in 2002 after they pushed their cart into her ankle in a crowded Rexdale grocery store. She frankly admits bending down in the condiment aisle to pick up the two heaviest pickle jars on the shelf before throwing them in the women's faces.
Her mother came to rescue her 1-year-old son, who was with her, before Latoya was taken away by police. A year later, she was charged again after assaulting two women who lived in her housing complex with a baseball bat. But she got lucky. The judge "told me that he wasn't going to charge me. He said 'You need to get out of my courtroom and find something to do. You obviously have too much time on your hands.' . . . I was grateful the judge gave me another chance." She was placed on a two-year peace bond, which meant she would be back in court if she didn't keep the peace for two years.
On her legal troubles:
Before the judge let her go in 2003, she spent a year going back and forth to court. With no legal aid – she'd used it all for her 2002 conviction – she was about to plead guilty to the assault charges when a duty lawyer told her, "You're not going to plead guilty. You're too young to have a record," and approved her legal aid on the spot. It meant she could fight the charge.
"You're there by yourself and you're going there every two weeks ...When you go to court, most of your friends and family don't support you." She had to move out of her mother's public housing unit because the second assault took place in the complex.
On turning her life around:
She found religion and says it "humbled" her. She also helped herself. Despite her mother's death in 2004 at the age of 46, a fire in her apartment and the birth of a second child, Latoya entered the George Brown community worker program and graduated with honours in 2007.
"I overcame my temperament through faith and having some really good people pass through my life – my colleagues at work and professors."
She's employed and helps women coming from prison find housing, but because of her criminal record, she'll never be able to work with children, seniors or at-risk members of the community.

Living with a criminal record isn't easy, and it severely limits employment, housing and travel opportunities. Unemployment and lack of education, have shown to increase recidivism. All criminals should have equal opportunities to receive pardons for their past crimes to aid in successful rehabilitation and reintegration. 

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